Is Apple Growing on Older Americans?

Even in the midst of an economic downturn, interest in Apple products continues to increase. Strong sales and substantial media attention for high-profile products like the iPhone over the last year has resulted in more visitors to Apple’s website. In Q3 2008, an average of 15.3 million people went to Apple.com each month, up 5% over traffic during the same period in 2007.

Apple’s continued success at driving interest stands in contrast to one of their main competitors. In the chart below, we compare Apple’s traffic to Dell‘s, another company that both manufactures and sells consumer electronics. In Q3 2008, Dell’s traffic shrank by 9% to 12.1 million monthly visitors, trailing Apple by over 3 million monthly visitors.

Apple has been successful at cultivating an image that resonates with a young audience. This strong brand identity led me to wonder if Apple was distancing itself from the large and growing segment of Americans over 50. To find out, we looked at the online behaviors of a "Seniors" segment that we defined as people who visit sites geared to older internet users such as AARP.org, Eons.com, and Medicare.gov.

Among this segment, Apple.com traffic declined 5% in Q3 2008 compared to the year before. However, Apple didn’t suffer as badly as Dell, whose Senior traffic declined 18% over the previous year. While Dell pulled in nearly 200,000 more Senior visitors a month in Q3 2007, Dell and Apple are now seeing approximately the same amount of traffic from this segment.

Older Americans seem to have been slower to catch on to the Apple craze, perhaps because Apple builds products and markets to smaller niches. For example, if you’re interested in a computer under $1000, the only Apple option is the technologically outdated Mac Mini. On the other hand, Dell offers an array of machines for every possible budget. Additionally, Apple has only begun to make a dent in the dominance of the Windows OS over the last few years; older consumers who have likely been using Windows for most of their computing lives will likely be slower to switch.

Another factor might be the large role that the iPod and iPhone play in Apple’s strategy. As we saw in an earlier look at the products that older Americans are shopping for, MP3 players are not high on the list, with interest in the iPhone similarly low.

Apple and Dell are now neck and neck in terms of capturing Older Americans’ interest, but the company that can get the right marketing and product mix to gain a foothold with this group may see healthy returns. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are over 96 million Americans aged 50 or higher, with the segment expected to grow 23% in the next 11 years – certainly a market worth pursuing.

Interested in learning more about how consumers shop for and use Consumer Electronics? Join us at 2 p.m. EST today, February 5th for our next webinar featuring results from a joint study with the Consumer Electronics Association on older Americans and technology. Click here to register.